Concentrate on this feeling. The hopelessness, the feeling of entrapment, the thought of flight, the heart-tugging fear you feel looking at your children asleep and imagining the world they’ll grow up in. This is a feeling– and I’m addressing my urban white lefty community– that’s attended every election (every police shooting, every teargas canister, every widening of surveillance, every gotcha drone strike) for our Muslim neighbors, our black neighbors, our trans neighbors, our immigrant neighbors. Now we urban white lefties can feel it too. That fear.
Concentrate on it– really invite it, so you can recall it in your body when your own moment for showing up in solidarity comes. Or for more than a moment, when you’re making the countless small decisions that orient a life as a whole. We’re called to be bread for each other, to transform ourselves, to lift up and love the humanity of those whom this new president will almost certainly surveil, incarcerate, disenfranchise, assault, degrade, bomb, and torture.
If this is your thing, pray, listen to meditative music, read something sacred (for me today it’s Psalm 73), remember that we’re held in a mystery that we can never master, carried in a movement and a love that’s bigger than us. That feeling of awe isn’t the same as passivity.
Just as politicized organizers of color have been saying for decades, our white lefty cynicism and hopeless contempt won’t protect us, our inaction won’t protect us.
And just as politicized organizers of color have been saying for decades, racism is a potent force in American politics. Concentrate on that feeling, the way that knowledge feels. Poor and working-class whites have felt the sting of exclusion from decades of urban neoliberal policymaking. Its fruits have been poverty, deindustrialization, wage stagnation, drug abuse, suicide. Now, given years of assiduous right-wing organizing; and given a candidate who ran as an outsider, who embraces a cult of action and victory, who’s too tough to brook civility, compromise, or dissent, who calls back a nationalist rhetoric of greatness to be reclaimed; these voters have embraced him.
And just as politicized organizers of color have been saying for decades, the “normal” of privileged folks is another’s crisis. It is easy to intellectually sympathize with those crushed by globalized capital (or for that matter by white supremacy, patriarchy, and empire) without really understanding in our bodies what it’s like to live in fear, uncertainty, powerlessness, and alienation. Trump harnessed those emotions among whites and is willing to weaponize them. Now urban white lefty folks, many of whom are insulated from the shocks of neoliberalism, suddenly feel the ground moving under us, too.
But I’m remembering too something Stokeley Carmichael said: “You can’t organize people if you don’t like them.” Urban white lefties, this is our call to do organizing with rural whites. They are not an implacable, homogenous enemy, but are, just as much as any community, a source of potentially liberatory energy: as a hotbed for labor organizing, as a community of potentially welcoming and justice-oriented Christians, as people who don’t want to see their homeland polluted to death.
And please remember, as I’m trying to remember, that most poor white people voted for nobody: disenfranchisement of those on the economic bottom has been as important to Republican power as gerrymandering and Citizens United. Categorical enlightened-white loathing of a fictitious single category of poor bigoted-white is poison.
It seems likely that, with majorities in both houses of Congress, the new president will have the means to push the Supreme Court back to its essentially reactionary/pro-Big Guy role of the pre-Marshall Court era; further restrict access to abortion; further militarize the police; surveil and detain Muslims and possibly radical Black organizers as well; significantly weaken programs like Medicaid and TANF; roll back all protections of the Voting Rights Act; enable industry capture of the EPA; embolden (with his violent rhetoric) racist cops, transphobic legislatures, and anti-immigrant bullies.
And that’s just domestically.
None of this requires an explicit authoritarian power grab– arresting opposition senators, shutting down media outlets, cultivating enemy lists– but who knows? In four years, will America look more like England or Poland does now? Or more like Argentina or the Philippines did in the 1980s?
Or, with Trump’s bluster matched by indiscipline and deep personal ugliness, he may simply get hammered by a change of political tide (in organized opposition and mainstream institutional resistance) in two years. But if that happens, it won’t be because we checked out, gave up in disgust, or stuck to our politically-liberal cities.
It’s time to organize.
The next days, weeks, months will show how the Democrats react. There’s an actual possibility that they may have to shift toward being a multi-racial populist coalition party, with a fifty-state strategy, to survive. But they may take exactly the wrong lesson, blaming (say) Black Lives Matter and Sanders for daring to criticize the genteel East Coast neoliberal-moderate consensus that’s dominated the party for 20+ years; they may attempt to drag the party back toward some imagined “center.”
I don’t want to discount the simple power of reactionary sexist hatred in Clinton’s defeat. It’s also important to remember that— from her hawkishness to her association with her husband’s crime bill to her friendliness with Wall Street— many people found reasons to simply distrust her as a leader.
I’m no great fan of the liberal state. But the right-wing push toward hard partisanship, the exacerbation of inequality, and intentional dysfunction has served to drain any sense of comity, shared commitment, or common aspiration out of civic life.
I want to build the power of the people whom this president will seek to crush. At the same time, as much as any other anti-authoritarian, I want a country whose processes and politics encourage us to build relationships with one another; not just fight. I hope the rhetoric of those in resistance to Trump is about healing and solidarity as well as power.
Here are some things I’ve read and heard since Tuesday night that have grounded me and given me perspective.
Glenn Greenwald, “Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit”
Damon Young, “This is What White Supremacy Looks Like”
Ruby Sales interviewed by Krista Tippett, “Where Does It Hurt?: the Spiritual Crisis of White America”
Eric Posner, “Are There Limits to Trump’s Power?”
Charles Mudede, “I Thought America Would Never Become a Zimbabwe. I Was Wrong.”
Would love to know what’s done so for you.